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Tennessee Enacts Contrary “Ban the Box” Bills

On March 14, 2016, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill to eliminate a question on state government job applications that asks about an applicant’s criminal history. The measure, commonly called “Ban the Box,” was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on April 14.

The move to help applicants seeking state job positions includes exceptions that would allow the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Department of Education and Board of Education to retain questions about criminal records on job applications. Under most Ban the Box policies, such questions can be asked later in the hiring process, too – just not on initial applications.

Elsewhere in Tennessee, local governments have enacted Ban the Box policies that predate the statewide action. The Metro Nashville government’s Civil Service Commission adopted a similar policy in November 2015, which exempts police, fire, emergency management and school positions. The City of Memphis and Hamilton County have also adopted Ban the Box measures.

However, the Tennessee legislature passed a separate bill in March 2016 that prohibits local governments from “prohibiting a private employer from requesting certain information on an application for employment or during the process of hiring a new employee.” That anti-Ban the Box legislation, which was also signed by Governor Haslam, effectively prevents cities and counties from enacting Ban the Box policies that apply to private businesses. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Glen Casada, said the bill would protect against “overreaching government.”

So while Tennessee lawmakers think Ban the Box measures are OK for government agencies, they do not want to extend them to private employers – which would have a much greater impact on ex-prisoners seeking employment, since most jobs are in the private sector.


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